If Garrett Richards could’ve gotten just one of those erratic fastballs in the strike zone, the Red Sox might’ve come away with a different result on Wednesday night.
Unfortunately, Richards looks totally lost on the mound this year.
To say he was erratic would be an understatement. A map of his scattered pitches on the night looks similar to a Georges Seurat painting: dots everywhere.
Richards hit one batter, spiked a fastball about 40 feet in front of him, threw another to the backstop, walked six more and ended the night with 48 strikes on 92 pitches as the Red Sox lost to the Blue Jays, 6-3.
That the Jays somehow managed just four runs off Richards is a minor miracle in itself. He allowed just four hits in 4 ⅔ innings, three of them singles, but the constant foot traffic and seven men he put on base for free are what cost him.
When Richards was signed to a one-year, $10-million contract with an option for 2022, the Red Sox knew they had a bit of a project on their hands. But with his high-90s fastball and sweeping slider, they figured it was a project worth working on.
Through four starts, Richards has been painful to watch. He’s thrown 16 2/3 innings and allowed 14 runs (12 earned) while walking 13 batters and striking out 12.
Of his 321 pitches, only 58% of them have been thrown for strikes, well below the MLB average of 63%.
His stuff is plenty good enough, as evident by a few ridiculous swings generated by Blue Jays batters on pitches that weren’t even close to the strike zone. Several times they had checked swings called strikes on balls in the dirt.
But Richards is so wild that when he does come into the zone, it’s rarely painted on the corners. He hung a few breaking balls, including one to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for an RBI single in the first inning.
Richards’ release point was so off that at one point in the second inning, he threw a fastball into the ground right in front of him.
When runners were on base, Richards looked unsettled. He made three consecutive throws to first to check on Marcus Semien, hitting Semien in the foot on one of them. Then he stood there motionless, looking straight at the catcher while Semien took off and stole second base easily.
Later in the inning, all Richards had to do was throw a strike to the Jays’ nine-hitter, Danny Jansen, who was in an 0-for-21 stretch. But Richards walked him on four pitches, and Jansen later came around to score.
All four runs allowed by Richards were scored in the first or second inning. It’s been a common theme this year, as he’s allowed 11 of his 14 runs to score in the first two innings.
He’s constantly putting the Red Sox in a hole, and they’re now 1-3 when he starts and 11-4 with anybody else on the mound.
A few other takeaways:
1. Alex Verdugo had an off-night on defense. With Richards struggling, it looked like Verdugo tried to make something out of nothing on a routine sacrifice fly hit to about normal depth in right field. With the speedy Semien at third base, Verdugo had no shot to get him at home, but fired up a bullet anyways. It allowed the trail runner to take third base easily, and he scored on a groundout two batters later. Then in the ninth inning, Verdugo botched a bouncing single and let it bounce off his leg while the runners advanced.
2. Xander Bogaerts hit a 1-2 breaking ball near his ankles into the Green Monster seats to cut the Jays’ lead to 4-3 in the eighth. He’s liking the ball inside right now. It was his second homer in as many nights after going his first 15 games of the season without one.
3. Josh Taylor blew it in a key spot. With the Sox down just one run entering the ninth, Taylor coughed up two more runs (including one on the Verdugo mistake) to give Toronto a cushion. After missing the entire 2020 season, Taylor has a 10.80 ERA in 6 2/3 innings this year.